It was sprinkling rain when I darted out of the grocery story. As I reached my car, I noticed the vehicle next to me was parked crooked and too close to my driver’s door.

Mumbling under my breath and losing most of my Christmas spirit, I squeezed into my car just as something caught my eye. Bent over a wet grocery cart was a small grey-haired lady. Her movements were slow as she put one bag at a time into her backseat.

I argued with myself at whether I should help. My schedule was tight and I didn’t really have time. I reluctantly squeezed back out of my car, still mumbling under my breath.

“Oh honey, thank you,” she said with a big smile. Her face was rosy red from the cold, wet wind. A sweater covered her blue flowered dress and an apron was tied at her waist. I had her bags in the car by the time she had sat down.

She told me how she had started her holiday baking and needed a few things. He face was lit like a Christmas tree as she told me about her only son, his wife and four grandchildren who are driving six hours to visit her for the holidays. Once they leave, she won’t see them again until Easter or maybe Mother’s Day.

Her husband passed away years ago and her son would like for her to move closer. She won’t leave her home because it’s home. She is a happy, optimistic and energetic woman. She still manages a few chores each day and her cat keeps her company. She described her 86 years (I had to ask) as being “just grand.”

I had forgotten about the drizzling rain and my tight schedule. As she started her car and thanked me again, I told her to be safe and explained that at 86, you have to be extra careful when you drive.

“Honey, age is just a number we all have to live with. I can’t do anything about it,” she said with a laugh as she put her car in reverse. “But happiness, now that’s a choice I can make every day.”

Her words put me back in the holiday spirit. I hope her family arrives safely and they have a great holiday. I hope they think about important things like buckling seatbelts, staying alert and stopping to rest every couple of hours as they travel. I hope the same for you this holiday season and throughout the coming year.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from TxDOT

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Rhonda Oaks is the Public Information Officer for the nine-county Lufkin District of the Texas Department of Transportation. A Lufkin native, she is a graduate of Hudson High School and Angelina College. She has a background in print journalism and worked for many years as a newspaper reporter and a freelance writer. She has received eight Associated Press awards. Her articles have been published in many publications over the past 25 years.